Melbourne is a great city to visit regardless of your budget. Learn about Australia's second-largest city without breaking the bank by exploring its free museums and galleries, such as the National Gallery of Victoria and the laneway street art. That's right, you never expected to say that.
Melbourne is a great place to take the family, and there are plenty of free activities to keep the kids entertained. Top free activities can be found in Melbourne every day of the year.
For almost a decade, the family has been looking for kid-friendly activities in Melbourne. We have saved a significant amount of money by enjoying these fantastic free attractions.
Read on for my recommendations for fun and free activities in Melbourne, one of the world's most liveable cities.
Free Things To Do In Melbourne
The best things in life, as the saying goes, supposedly come at no cost. Of course, we can't agree with that statement one hundred percent (have you ever had a cocktail that was absolutely perfect in every way? That's not cheap, but you don't have to spend a fortune to have a good time in Melbourne. There are plenty of free cultural events, from art exhibitions to wine tastings, to enjoy in this wonderful metropolis.
Actually, it's no cost to you. Zilch. Nada. A complete absence of monetary value. We've compiled a list of Melbourne's finest free comedy shows, events, art galleries, and other activities so that you can have a memorable and exciting time without breaking the bank.
National Gallery Of Victoria
As you head up St Kilda Road, you will come across a monumental 1960s bluestone building on your left – NGV International, designed by Sir Roy Grounds. This and its other building, Ian Potter Centre: NGV International, make up the National Gallery of Victoria, with its collection of more than 73,000 works of art.
Make your way through the arched entrance, behind the wall of water and towards the Great Hall to see the world’s largest stained-glass ceiling, which casts a kaleidoscope of colours onto the gallery floor. Aside from its permanent collection, NGV also holds exhibitions and special events such as the annual Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series and the Triennial, which features contemporary work from across the world.
Tour Parliament House
Parliament House is an imposing, column-fronted building, with impressive tiled floors and high, decorated ceilings. You can see Victorian decision-makers working inside the legislative centre, which is open on both sitting and non-sitting days.
The public can also view the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly from the public galleries or go on a free public tour. These are scheduled for when parliament is not sitting.
State Library Of Victoria
The State Library of Victoria is unmistakable. You cannot deny its beauty from the moment you first set eyes on it, yet the outside can’t compare to its interior. The domed La Trobe Reading Room is exquisite, with natural light pouring through the curved skylights. It does not disappoint in the evening, either, as the soft light provided by artificial means draws you in. There is no better place to read your favourite book.
And you should have no trouble finding it with more than two million books contained within the library’s collection. If that does not sate your appetite, then indulge in some of the thousands of newspapers, manuscripts, audio, video and digital material on hand that spans a century of Victoria’s culture and history.
The State Library is also home to fabulous artworks and exhibitions, with free guided tours available. Regular talks on fashion to philosophy are also available, often with free or name-your-price ticketing. The State Library of Victoria is a cultural landmark that houses an incredible amount of books and several exhibitions and galleries with a lot of history.
The library was established in 1856 and is a great presence on Swanston Street with interior spaces to match.
The La Trobe Reading Room is a six-storey-high domed room that is magnificent to look at. Beautiful artworks depicting Victoria’s history are exhibited in the Cowen Gallery for visitors to peruse. North and south rotundas and the Keith Murdoch gallery also hold exhibitions and artworks.
The library offers everything needed for a productive workday – free wifi, printing services and plenty of seating options. In addition, the State Library houses thousands of heritage items, maps, manuscripts, and newspapers with books and artworks. Digital material is also available for readers to access.
And all of this is free.
You can also find people lounging on the lawns in front of the library on a pleasant day. Mr Tulk café and Guild café are close by to fuel the visitors with delicious treats while the Readings bookshop located inside the library gives them plenty to spend their money on.
Meander Through The Queen Victoria Market
Discover fresh produce, hot doughnuts, souvenirs, homewares, and much more as you stroll through the historic sheds of Queen Victoria Market. Every Wednesday from November through April, there is a nighttime market.
The marketplace really comes to life after dark, with a variety of entertainment options, including live music, tasty food stalls, alcoholic beverages, and late-night shopping. Daytime activities include art trails, thought-provoking exhibitions, and the Mini Market series, which highlights a select group of vendors, such as those peddling gardening supplies, outdoor gear, children's clothing, and more.
Discover Melbourne’s Most Beautiful Buildings
Let's face it, Melbourne isn’t known for its skyline. Besides the famous Arts Centre spire and the gargantuan Eureka Tower, we don’t have defining buildings that shoot out into the stratosphere.
Instead, you’ll find some of Melbourne’s best buildings hidden within the grid, on street corners or in grand, green gardens. Please take a tour of our favourites, including the historic Royal Exhibition Building, the GPO and one particularly pretty McDonald’s building (seriously!)
Explore ACMI's Screen Worlds
Located inside ACMI (the Australian Centre for the Moving Image) in Federation Square, Screen Worlds is a free permanent exhibition that tells visitors the ever-evolving story of the moving image. The interactive exhibition features objects, props and memorabilia.
Displays explore the origins of cinema and where it’s headed, Australian culture and, more widely, how people are influenced by all things screen-related, from smartphones to video games.
Props on show include the original clock from the children’s TV show Play School (1966-present), Cate Blanchett’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in The Aviator (2004), and Australian stars wearing costumes.
Scout The Filming Locations Of Your Favourite Tv Shows
Many of Australia’s most iconic television shows have been filmed in Melbourne, including the soap Neighbours (1985–present), family drama Offspring (2010–2017), and comedy (2002–2007). All outside shots of Ramsay Street are filmed in Pin Oak Court, Vermont South, for Neighbours fans.
The non-free option is to do the Official Neighbours Tour, where you get to meet a Neighbours star (past or present). Filming for Kath & Kim took place at 4 Lagoon Place, Patterson Lakes. In addition, offspring fans should visit Brunswick Street to see Dr Noonan’s surgery exterior and Emma Street in Collingwood to see the Proudman home.
Listen To Live Music
The citizens of Melbourne regularly attend concerts. That's great news, because it's also one of the top free activities in Melbourne (aside from the cost of a beer). A local establishment on the city's ACDC Lane is proud to call itself "pretty much the best rock 'n' roll bar in the world" (Cherry Bar). There are a lot of free concerts there, and it frequently plays host to after-show parties with famous musicians. The Basement bar at The Esplanade in St. Kilda is a great place to see up-and-coming rock bands, and it's open for free most nights. The beer garden at The Brunswick Green, located on Sydney Road, is another option.
Go On A Hunt For Public Sculptures.
Deborah Halpern, who studied in Melbourne and has strong links with the city, is Australia’s most celebrated sculptor. Three of her colourful mosaics are on display in the city – Angel (1987)at Birrarung Marr, Ophelia (1992)at Southgate, and Portal to Another Time and Place (2005)at Werribee Mansion.
Other public sculptures to fit into your Melbourne sculpture trail include Bruce Armstrong’s Eagle (2002)and John Kelly’s Cow up a Tree (1999)in Docklands, Simon Perry’s The Public Purse (1994) outside the GPO building, and Petrus Spronk’s sinking building known as Architectural Fragment (1992) outside the State Library of Victoria.
Melbourne spoke with local sculptor and ceramics artist Deborah Halpern on the evolution of her career, her influences and how her artwork, particularly Angel and Ophelia, have become permanent fixtures in Melbourne’s mosaic landscape. Deborah also revealed to us her current projects.
Enjoy Yourself At A Festival.
Throughout the year, Melbourne hosts a plethora of festivals that not only draw large crowds but also provide a wide variety of free and low-cost activities for attendees. Moomba is Australia's largest free community festival, and it takes place in March. Every night there are fireworks, there is a parade with famous monarchs, and there are carnival rides and games galore.
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival, Melbourne Writers Festival, Melbourne Fringe and Melbourne Festival, and Midsumma, the city's LGBTQ pride festival, are just a few of the other well-attended festivals held in Melbourne.
Regular Comedy Nights In Melbourne
People in Melbourne enjoy a good laugh. The city's resident comedians (and occasional guests) will have you in stitches every night of the week. If you're looking for a good laugh on any given night of the week, Melbourne is home to a plethora of comedy venues.
Tickets are typically reasonably priced, and the lineups feature both up-and-coming and well-known comedians. There is one comedy club in Melbourne, the Comic's Lounge, that is open nearly every night of the week. Then again, there are a plethora of other establishments open on a fewer number of nights each week.
Take A Walk To See Melbourne's Architectural Gems.
Melbourne's cityscape is an eclectic mix of styles, from the ultra-contemporary to the classically Victorian and art deco.
Eureka Tower, Federation Square, the Manchester Unity Building, and the Melbourne Theatre Company are just a few of the unusual structures you'll see as you explore the city on foot; together they create an architectural sculpture trail on a grand scale. Fed Square, which was finished in 2002, combined deconstructivist architecture with contemporary minimalism.
Wander Through The Royal Botanic Gardens
Escape the buzz of Melbourne’s city streets in the tranquil sanctuary of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Spread across 94 acres (38ha), the sprawling gardens contain a collection of 10,000 plants – both native and exotic.
With 11 lawns, there’s ample space to relax, unwind and decide what to do in Melbourne next. There’s also a 3.8km (2.4m) walking and jogging track known as The Tan that circles the garden, which runs past the gardens’ main entrance and the Shrine of Remembrance war memorial. Reward yourself for completing the loop with a coffee from one of the cafes on Domain Road.
Explore The Laneways For Colourful Street Art
One of the best ways to experience Melbourne is to get lost in the city's network of laneways, which is perfect if you're a people-watcher. Many artists now view them as prime real estate because they provide ideal settings for displaying their works to the public.
The vibrantly coloured murals of Duckboard Place, Union Lane, and ACDC Lane encourage free expression from local artists and make for great Instagram fodder. Hosier Lane, which is located near the defunct Forum Theater, is a popular spot for sightseers interested in street art and taking photos of themselves.
Get Inspired At The Wheeler Centre.
The Wheeler Centre on Little Lonsdale Street, founded in 2008, celebrates and explores Australia’s literary scene. Visitors can engage in programmes and listen to guest speakers.
Every Thursday at lunchtime, you can catch the free Lunchbox/Soapbox series, which provides a platform for curious minds to share stories and ideas – previous speakers have addressed diverse topics ranging from offshore detention to the environment, promiscuity and the viola.
Explore Melbourne's Southbank
The Southbank entertainment precinct includes some of Melbourne's finest eateries, boutiques, and the Crown Casino, and stretches along the Yarra River between Princes Bridge and the Melbourne Exhibition Centre.
Walk along the promenade and take in the sights of the departing river cruise boats and buskers as you take in the sights of Melbourne. Every hour, at the stroke of the clock, the Gas Brigades at Crown Casino launch fireballs into the night sky, providing a spectacular sight for visitors. Queensbridge Street is home to a variety of historic structures in addition to contemporary office and apartment complexes, including the 19th-century Victoria Barracks and the former Castlemaine Brewery.
Take A Ride On The City Circle Tram.
Many of Melbourne's free attractions require some footwork, but you can give your feet a rest by riding the city's ubiquitous trams. Visitors and locals alike can ride the City Circle Tram for free and hop on and off at their convenience to explore the entirety of Melbourne.
Melbourne's CBD is served by a fleet of historic W-class trams, which have been operating since 1923. These trams run along La Trobe, Flinders, Spring, Nicholson, and Victoria Streets. There's also an audio commentary that describes the sights at each stop and provides trivia about the route.
Find Refuge In One Of The City's Churches.
Churches and cathedrals are some of the more serene places to visit in Melbourne, whether you're looking for a quiet place to rest or simply want to take in the stunning architecture. Built in the 1890s, St. Paul's Cathedral is located in the middle of Melbourne's bustling CBD.
The cathedral, which was designed by an English architect, exemplifies the neo-gothic transitional style. St. Patrick's Cathedral, a nearby church with a mediaeval appearance, was constructed between 1858 and 1939. Saint Michael's Uniting Church and Saint Mary Star of the Sea Church can also be found in the area. Inspiring and beautiful, these religious buildings are worth the trip.
Explore A Model Tudor Village At Fitzroy Gardens
Head to the scenic Fitzroy Gardens located amidst Melbourne’s busy cityscape. Take a stroll around the park and take in the natural landscape and historical sights located throughout the gardens.
Heritage highlights include Captain Cook’s 1755 family home uprooted from Yorkshire and re-assembled here in the 1930s, a conservatory, and a collection of similarly strange fountains, statues, memorials and follies accumulated over the park’s 150 years.
A model Tudor Village is located in the middle of the gardens, created by London pensioner Edgar Wilson back in the 1940s. This miniature village is a typical Kentish village built during England's Tudor period. It was unveiled in Fitzroy Gardens by the lord mayor in 1948.
The park is blissfully underused, especially on the weekends. However, you can always find a secluded spot to admire the avenues of mature elms and rare specimen trees from the 19th century.
Fitzroy Gardens star attraction? That has got to be the conservatory. This Spanish Mission-style conservatory was opened way back in March 1930. It currently exhibits five floral displays annually, meaning it’s in full bloom all year round, with a mix of hydrangeas, fuchsias, begonias, cyclamens and calceolaria all making an appearance at some point. Pro tip: make sure your nasal passages are clear – the smell is incredible.
Visit The Best Bookshop In The World.
This Readings bookstore in Carlton is the first location for the company in Australia's second largest city. The store first opened in 1969 on Lygon Street and has been at its current location opposite Cinema Nova ever since 1998.
In 2016, Readings Carlton was named "Bookstore of the Year" at the London Book Fair International Excellence Awards, making it a household name not only in Melbourne but around the world. In addition to being a fantastic resource for printed and bound materials, Readings has been honoured for its charitable contributions and advocacy on behalf of Australian authors and literacy.
To a much more local level Readings has also been honoured as "Independent Book Retailer of the Year" at the Australian Book Industry Awards in 2016 and 2017. Books, CDs, vinyl records, and gifts are just some of the things that can be read aloud at these drop-in events. And for all you late-night readers, Readings Carlton is open until 11pm Monday through Saturday and 9pm on Sunday.
Pay Your Respects At The Shrine Of Remembrance.
Built to honour Victorians who served during World War I, the Shrine of Remembrance now stands as a memorial to all Australians who have served in all wars and peacekeeping efforts from the 1850s to today. Visitors are welcome to explore the memorial at their own pace or join a guided tour, costing $20.
The memorial consists of many underground “galleries of remembrance” and exhibition spaces, which contain more than 800 objects, photos and uniforms illustrating the experiences of Australians who have served in the armed forces, as well as a Gallipoli landing boat.
The 1000 Steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk
Twitchers, travellers, picnickers and bucket list-ers from across the city make the breathless march up this stony memorial named for a bloody killing field. Attempting to count the 1000 steps as you trudge up is near-impossible as blood, sweat, and adrenalin do battle over your brain. (They reckon there are only 770, anyway.) Easier, but more depressing, count how many times some hot young thing in lycra laps you on your 1.5 km ascent.
The 1000 Steps were created in the early 1900s, before Kokoda veterans adopted the area in 1998, as a memorial to 625 Australian soldiers killed on the Papua New Guinean track in World War II. Recently, concerns that joggers were jostling out veterans prompted the Victorian Government to build an alternative fitness track. It’s part of a brand-new $1 million upgrade.
Were you not feeling too athletic? Skyscraping gums surround the area, and there’s no shortage of lush picnic spots.
The Sherbrooke Lyrebird Survey Group has been spying on impressive native birds since 1958. Lyrebirds are tricky to spot amidst the ferns with fancy tails and distinctive calls, but the group reports population numbers have doubled in the past decade.
FAQs About Free Things To Do In Melbourne
Free or cheap entry is available at these fun and informative places; the National Gallery of Victoria, the State Library of Victoria, Federation Square, Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, and the Melbourne Museum. For a full list of world-class events and attractions, check the links on the Entertainment page.
The routes take in most major attractions, including the Royal Botanic Gardens, Zoo, Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne Museum or Melbourne Park. However, if you want to journey further out of the city centre, your cheapest option is to get my travel card. A Full Fare Explorer costs AUD 15 and includes $9 myki money for travel.
For All You Backpacking Bargain Hunters Out There, Exploring Wonderful Melbourne Doesn't Have To Hurt The Hip Pocket. Here Are 50 Free Things To See And Do While You're In Town. Take a stroll around the Royal Botanic Gardens. Visit the Shrine of Remembrance and get a great view of the Melbourne city skyline.